A detuned warble that sounds like it’s coming from an old-time gramophone provides an unsettling backdrop as Wifisfuneral mumbles a couple of bars. Then the kick drum drops, and his enunciation becomes razor-sharp, his flow furious. “Steady relapse into my old ways,” he raps. “In the third grade, I got punished for sour play.”
The song, “JoeBuddenProbablyThinksICantRap,” puts to rest any doubts of Wifi’s technical ability, and that’s the point. It’s a reaction to a Twitter spat with 37-year-old New York rapper Joe Budden, who has a penchant for criticizing younger rappers' skills. Last year, Budden used the social media platform to mock Wifi after he was beaten unconscious while crowdsurfing during an XXXTentacion concert in Houston. Wifi responded with white-hot fury.
It’s one of the higher-profile tracks the Palm Beach rapper independently released on SoundCloud, where some of his songs have garnered millions of streams. His mixtape When Hell Falls peaked at number 17 on the iTunes hip-hop chart, and in March he signed with Alamo Records through Interscope. Now, along with contemporaries Kodak Black and XXXTentacion, he's part of a South Florida rap scene that’s gaining national attention. He’s set to roll through Miami on his Boy Who Cried Wolf Tour October 27.
Wifi, whose real name is Isaiah Rivera, was born in the Bronx as the son of a battle rapper, and his mother moved the family to Florida when he was 6 years old. He began rapping shortly thereafter, and he remembers being influenced by the Notorious B.I.G.’s music video for “Mo Money Mo Problems,” featuring Puff Daddy and Mase. “It was like, This is what rappers do, and, hell yeah, I’m trying to do this,” he recalls.
Rapping became an outlet as he struggled with childhood depression. “I didn’t have my biological father in my life, and obviously that’s major. You look and act exactly like someone, and you don’t know who the fuck they are,” he says. “My stepdad acted like a real dad until I was like 11 and then decided to be a deadbeat. So I didn’t have an ongoing father figure... My mom was always struggling to put clothes on our backs, and I didn’t have any friends when I was growing up. I don’t know why, but I didn’t like associating with people.”
In high school, he became dependent on Adderall, Xanax, and cocaine and fell even deeper into depression. He questioned the point of living. Then came a series of overdoses, the last of which was a suicide attempt. Waking up in a hospital bed and seeing his younger brother and sister was a turning point, he says. He’s been sober since then but still struggles with temptation. “Every single day,” he says, “I’m trying to fight that good fight.”
Wifi is only 20 years old, but he's had heavy experiences that inevitably inform his music. Take, for instance, “DisDaHateSongBby(outro),” off his mixtape Boy Who Cried Wolf, on which he raps, “I hate everything that I’m living/I hate everything that I’m saying/I hate the motherfucking fact I never had patience/I wish I never took these drugs, but it made me.”
In the context of hyphy turn-up tunes, Wifi’s hard-edged lyrics make for a captivating juxtaposition. Not coincidentally, he cites the dirty-crunk group Three 6 Mafia as his single greatest influence.
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“I really loved the Memphis sound in general,” he says. “It’s got a trance-dance vibe to it, you know what I mean? And the fact that they were rapping in triplets I thought was even more interesting; I thought it was a real skill if you knew how to put bars and syllables on triplets and rap fast. The technicality of that music is really what drew me to it.”
Having become a quick-spitting rapper himself, he has caught the attention of the likes of Earl Sweatshirt, one of Wifi's personal heroes. He feels like, from here, the sky’s the limit.
“Anything is possible,” he says. “If I can go from being an addict to making my dream a reality, I feel like anybody can do it, even if it’s owning, like, a little coffee shop or something, you know? The only reason I’m rapping is because this is the only thing I’m good at.”